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28th Olympic Games - JO
Athens, Greece, August 14-28, 2004Track 101
August 20-25: Men's track events
Eight Men's Olympic titles up for grabs
By Mal Sawford
Olympic Gold is arguably the most highly sought after trophy in the cycling world, and at the Athens Velodrome, eight Gold Medals are on offer over five days of competition. While some events have suffered from disappointing crowd numbers, Olympic organisers were delighted to announce that the entire track cycling program had sold out before the Games were under way.
The 2004 World Championships held in Melbourne, Australia in May doubled as the final Olympic qualifiers for most events. Based on performances in Melbourne, strong teams from Australia, France, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands are expected to dominate in Athens. Coaches have until the start of the competition to finalise their start lists, and in many cases like to keep their opponents guessing!
The 250 metre Athens velodrome is partly covered: the roof will provide shade and protection from wet weather, but allows winds to blow across the track - which may result in slow times.
1 km Time Trial
The 'kilo' is traditionally the first medal decided at major Championships, with the big men racing alone over four leg breaking laps. As reigning World Champion, Great Britain's Chris Hoy has earned the right to start last in the 1000 metre standing start dash, knowing the times he has to beat to claim Gold. Hoy and his compatriot Craig Maclean are among the hot favourites, with the pair in top form - preventing teammate Jason Queally from having the chance to defend his Sydney title.
Hoy believes the main danger will come from his team mate Maclean, French World Record holder Arnaud Tournant, German Stefan Nimke and young Dutch sensation Theo Bos, although evergreen Australian champion Shane Kelly is determined to finally claim the one title that has always eluded him.
Queally's Olympic record of 1:01.609 could well be under threat; with Hoy predicting he would break the 1:01 barrier after his World Championships win in Melbourne earlier this year.
4000m Individual Pursuit
Australia's Brad McGee is odds on favourite to add Olympic Gold to his collection of World and Commonwealth titles. His early withdrawal from July's Tour de France may have given his competitors some hope, but Tyler Hamilton's dominant ride in the Road Time Trial after a similarly interrupted Tour should give McGee's confidence a boost!
Spanish rider Sergi Escobar was the standout rider at the World Championships, and should ride well, while defending Olympic champion Robert Bartko (Germany) was still coming into form at the World's and expects to improve on his third place finish there.
Britain's Bradley Wiggins bypassed the World's, preferring to prepare on the European road circuit, and is expected to challenge for Gold, while Luke Roberts hopes to join team mate McGee on the podium.
The Team Sprint sees three man teams going head to head over three laps. The lead rider is expected to cover the 250 metre lap in less than 18 seconds from a standing start, before swinging up; the next rider tows his team mate to the bell in around 13 seconds before peeling off; another 13 seconds later should see the anchor man home - in an event often decided by thousandths of a second!
The flying French trio of Arnaud Tournant, Mickael Bourgain and Laurent Gané are favoured to defend their Sydney success in the three lap dash. The Spanish team shocked observers with their second place finish at the World's and could do well, but the strong British team of Hoy, Maclean and Queally are a definite Gold Medal chance.
Germany has a host of top sprinters to draw on, including Jens Fiedler, Matthias John, Nimke and Jan Van Eijden, while the Australian team must put recent doping allegations and selection controversies behind them to do well. Head coach Martin Barras continues to play his cards close to his chest, with four riders in contention: Sean Eadie, Ryan Bayley, Kelly and Ben Kersten.
The Team Sprint sees the host nation's best chance for a medal, with a team that has raced together for over thirteen years! Georgians Cheimonetos, Labro Vasilopoulos and Dimitris Georgalis will fly the flag for Greece, and expect to finish close to the medals after their fourth place in Sydney.
4000m Team Pursuit
The Sydney Olympics saw the German team of Robert Bartko, Daniel Becke, Jens Lehmann, and Guido Fulst smash the World record and the 4 minute barrier, riding 3:59.781 in the Gold Medal ride off against Ukraine. Since then, the Australian's have dominated the event, lowering the record to 3:57.280, and threatening to ride 3:55 in Athens.
Australian won the 2004 World Championships with a team comprising Luke Roberts, Stephen Wooldridge, Peter Dawson and Ashley Hutchinson; and still has stars like Graeme Brown, Brett Lancaster and Brad McGee to add to the mix.
British coach Simon Jones revealed in Melbourne that he believed he could also put together a team capable of riding 3:55; however the forced departure of David Millar from the Olympic squad won't help. Germany was disappointing in Melbourne, but should be in better form this week, while Spain and the Netherlands are also expected to challenge for medals.
40km Points Race
Held over 160 dizzying laps of the velodrome, with sprints every ten laps, the Points Race is a mass start race with 18 competitors. Points are awarded for the first four finishers in each sprint: 5 for the winner, then 3, 2 and 1. To further complicate things for both riders and spectators, riders who lap the field are awarded 20 points, while riders who lose a lap to the field face a 20 point deduction. The winner is the rider with the highest points total at the end of the distance - which is generally completed at around 50km/h!
With Olympic teams limited to a maximum of eleven riders to cover a potential eight events, teams face a selection dilemma. The Australian team is primarily focussed on the Teams Sprint and Pursuit, and has selected four sprinters and seven pursuiters: so a non specialist like Mark Renshaw will likely do double duty in the Points Race.
Other nations focus on the mass start races and select endurance specialists. France's Franck Perque won the 2004 World Championships, from Uruguayan Milton Wynants and Juan Curuchet (Argentina). Sydney Gold Medallist Juan Llaneras (Spain) narrowly missed a medal in Melbourne but is a consistent performer at the top level and probably starts favourite. Colby Pearce (USA) also missed out in Melbourne, but won the Sydney round of the World Cup and should be in contention.
20 year old Theo Bos shook off two falls on his way to claiming the World Championship Sprint title in Melbourne. Bos claims to be in better shape than he was in Australia, telling reporters days ago "I am in top condition." Australian hope Ryan Bayley is also reportedly flying in training and determined to medal, while the other Australian likely to ride, Sean Eadie, has not prepared specifically for the sprint and will be content to see how far his legs can take him.
Laurent Gané (France) came closest to unseating Bos in Melbourne, and is definitely one to watch in Athens, but the competition will be fierce, with Damian Zielinski (Poland), German pair Fiedler and John, Jamie Staff (Britain) and Teun Mulder (Netherlands) also impressing in Melbourne.
39 year old Argentinean veteran Juan Curuchet teamed with partner Walter Perez to claim the spectacular Madison title at this year's World Championships, and hopes to repeat the performance to claim Gold in Athens. The Madison features two man teams, with one rider racing at a time, before slinging his resting partner into the race. The race is decided by points from sprints at 20 lap intervals, but unlike the Points Race, teams lapping the field cannot be beaten by teams who complete fewer laps, regardless of their point's total.
The Australian combination of Brett Aitken and Scott McGrory won Gold in Sydney, but neither qualified for Athens this time round, and a make-shift Australian pairing is unlikely to be a match for specialists like Swiss stars Bruno Risi and Franco Marvulli, or Robert Slippens and Danny Stam (Netherlands). Belgium's Matthew Gilmore is a consistent performer on the Six Day circuit, and with partner Iljo Keisse the Sydney Silver Medalist should be a contender.
The Keirin will bring the Olympic track carnival to a close. The favourite event for many of the big sprinters, six riders fight for position behind a pacing derny, before the derny leaves the track at around 50km.h with two and a half laps to travel. From there, it's generally flat out to the line, although the ideal position is to be in second wheel when the derny swings off.
Australian sprinter Ryan Bayley is a former World Champion, and describes the Keirin as "Full contact. It is definitely a race suited to me. It's a lottery, like the dodgem cars, it's insane!" Bayley will start one of the favourites, but with riders having to qualify for the final through heats and repechages, any of the top sprinters could come away with Gold.
Jamie Staff (Britain) is the reigning World Champion; while Malaysian rider Josiah Ng hopes to record his country's first Olympic Cycling medal (and first non Badminton medal!) after a solid season on the World Cup circuit where he finished in third overall. Sydney Gold Medalist Marty Nothstein returns to defend his title after spending most of the last four years racing on the US road circuit, where he is currently riding with the Navigators Insurance Cycling team.